One morning in April wide receiver Taylor Jacobs looked up from a weight bench and saw new Gators coach Ron Zook peering down at him. "He was asking me how many reps I'd done, and I called him out," says Jacobs, a senior. "So he brushes me aside, gets down on the bench in his starched shirt and khakis, and punches a bunch of reps. The guy is no joke."
The rest of the college football world might need some convincing. Although he has no head coaching experience beyond high school, the 48-year-old Zook was hired in January to succeed Steve Spurrier, who finally made the jump to the NFL after 12 years at Florida. Zook was an assistant under Spurrier from 1991 through '95 and spent the last two years as the New Orleans Saints' defensive coordinator.
Though Zook's high-energy approach is vastly different from Spurrier's aloof style, much about Florida's trademark wide-open offense will remain the same. "My idea is to build on this team's existing strengths," says Zook, "and that's throwing the football." Florida will continue to air it out with junior quarterback Rex Grossman, who led the nation in passing with 354.2 yards per game, and Jacobs (18.7 yards per catch).
Grossman's precise passing—his 170.8 efficiency rating was the best in the country—should help settle an inexperienced group of receivers, and senior Earnest Graham (650 rushing yards and nine TDs in 2001) can be used as something more than an accessory at tailback. A new multiple 4-3 defense, which first-year defensive coordinator John Thompson brought from Arkansas, features an aggressive secondary, led by two-time All-SEC free safety Todd Johnson.
The task of continuing Florida's highflying success may be hefty, but Zook isn't about to buckle under the pressure. "I'm not another Steve Spurrier," says Zook, "but we're still going to be one of the most exciting teams in the nation, and we're still going to win a lot of games."